Nonprofits -Behavioral health services and technology- I


Last year I had the wonderful opportunity to work on Requirements, User Experience (UX) design and Software dev with a non profit that provides free services to people with mental health challenges- On Our Own. Although a short one, it opened my eyes to a whole new world. From a no. of non profits where I sent requests to volunteer they were the first to respond mentioning they needed some help with tech.

Here, one-on-one sessions and groups like peer support, goals tracking, assertiveness education, drug recovery lessons among others were led by facilitators, hosted daily and weekly — open to anyone who wanted to benefit. They also had programs for helping and providing any necessary resources to the homeless and others in need. Anyone dealing with such issues could just walk in and find help. It was immediately inspiring to see such sense of community service, free for all. What stood apart was the employees/facilitators had been through their own arduous paths with mental health struggles and were able to connect easily and truly impact those who came in to get help. A large part of their daily services was also run by volunteers who came in from various other organizations or schools to learn, observe or contribute in their own way.

In my initial discussions with them I found that they were technology skeptic human advocates curious and looking for help in identifying where software should and could be used. One thing that was immediately clear was that the software would only be used by the staff or volunteers, not the people who came in to get help (other than for signing in). There was a notebook for sign up for all folks who walked in. Attendance for all daily groups/sessions and participants was noted down on paper. They also offered one on one sessions for people who were too shy or afraid to talk in group sessions or needed more attention. This data entry could be done using a simple web application. The other need for software seemed to be in their reporting to funding agencies.

Being a non profit a large part of their daily jobs was to get funding for their projects- as of now they pulled the data off the notebooks or just cooked some number up as far as it was not too big a distortion. Building a web application to do basic data entry and reporting seemed like a good idea. The issue was in what we could define as enough data or correct data to define or represent the system authentically.

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